With just one more week to go before the Christmas break, the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League brings us one last round of exciting action before the game moves indoors. What can we expect from the top teams in our domestic league?
In perhaps a shock result for many, Wimbledon breathed new life into the NOW: Pensions Men’s Premier League by inflicting a first defeat of the season on Beeston last week. The Bees had picked up maximum points from their previous nine league games but the loss against the Wombles gives new hope to the chasing pack. They are given little respite as they now travel to Reading in a huge game for both sides. Beeston Coach Matt Taylor told The Top of the D:
“It was a fair result as Wimbledon took their chances and we didn’t. I wasn’t discouraged by the manner in which we played although we were a little flat but you have to take your hat of to Wimbledon because they played a very good game and made it very difficult for us. This week we travel to Reading where we hope we can get back to winning ways but it will, as always, be a very tough game at Sonning Lane.”
Reading staged a remarkable comeback in their last game to take three points away from Canterbury. Having trailed 3-0 Charlie Seccombe’s team scored five second half goals, including a winner in the 70th minute from Jonty Clarke to complete a memorable comeback and break the hosts’ hearts. Seccombe told The Top of the D:
“In the first half we weren’t good enough. We were poor on the ball and we were defensively lax. At half time we talked about Canterbury’s tactics. We needed to get tighter in midfield, and our forwards weren’t quite pressing the way we wanted. We took better care of the ball in the second half, we weren’t taking it into contact and we played into space a lot more, which allowed us to create the chances we did. We knew we needed three points today, a draw was no use to us, and we’re really pleased to have got the win.”
Looking ahead to this week, the Reading Coach emphasised the importance of the game in the overall context of the season:
“Going into Christmas we know it is very important to get six points from these two games. Canterbury was crucial. If we hadn’t won, next week against Beeston would have a lot less meaning for us. We need other teams to take points off Beeston, and Wimbledon doing that gives us a chance to put some pressure on them. If we continue to play good hockey hopefully we can get ourselves back up level with Beeston.”
Surbiton currently occupy the fourth play-off place and come into this week’s clash with second-bottom Sheffield Hallam off the back of a good win over Hampstead and Westminster. Hallam are a point clear of bottom side Loughborough Students but will be desperate to extend that cushion and close the gap to Cannock with a win over the team they lost 3-1 to earlier on in the season.
As mentioned above, there was a Kinder Surprise (sorry!) as two goals from Wimbledon’s striker Johnny Kinder and a third from Ali Brogdon gave The Wombles their fourth win in a row and moved them to fifth in the table, two points behind Surbiton in the play off places. This week they host Cannock who eased their relegation fears with a 3-2 win against fellow strugglers Loughborough last week. Wimbledon won the first meeting earlier on in the season 2-0 and in their current form you have to say Cannock have their work cut out.
Loughborough remain in deep trouble after that loss last week and will need to pick something up from their home game with Hampstead and Westminster. The Students are still only a point behind Sheffield Hallam but four behind Cannock above the relegation places. Hampstead’s form has been somewhat patchy this season and last week they lost out to Surbiton, however Player-Coach Tom Kavanagh was reasonably pleased with his team’s effort:
“Against Surbiton we put in a much improved performance from our previous weeks. We created some chances which was encouraging. However, Surbiton took theirs and that was the difference.” he added: “This weekend is an important game for many reasons and it is important that we continue to build on our plan and put in a performance which will see us continue to grow as a team. If we can play at a high pace and move the ball quickly we will compete this weekend. Loughborough have had a tough start but we will not underestimate them.”
That just leaves the match between East Grinstead and Canterbury at Saint Hill. Of course Grinstead beat Canterbury 9-1 earlier in the season. Despite that heavy defeat and the disappointment of their loss to Reading last week Captain Michael Farrer feels his side are much improved since those early season games:
“When we played Reading at the start of the season we lost 3-1 but we never really competed. We followed that up with a heavy loss to East Grinstead. We’ve played much better against Reading this time out, certainly competed and could have won. That should give us some confidence ahead of the East Grinstead game. At the start of the season when we played them we had a lot of young players in and we were still finding our feet. As a squad we’ve improved since then so hopefully we’re better equipped to face them this time around.”
East Grinstead sit second and will be keen to take full advantage should Beeston slip up again. The Sussex side beat Sheffield Hallam 5-3 away from home last week. Player-Coach Mark Pearn told The Top of the D:
“We were pleased with the way we approached the game at Sheffield. We formed a plan from playing against them earlier in the season and stuck to the task pretty well. We scored five good goals and had more than enough chances to win by a larger margin. The first 15-20 minutes of the second half were outstanding for us, but we let a comfortable 4-1 lead slip to 4-3 by becoming a little complacent. Overall a professional performance and good to get back to winning ways after drawing our two previous games.”
Ahead of their game with Canterbury, the former Great Britain star said: “We know they will be fired up to exact a little revenge for the 9-1 defeat earlier in the season. Obviously a lot went right for us on that day and they have shown some fight in recent weeks to kick start their season and climb back up the league. Of course we are not expecting to have such an easy time of it this week, but we are starting to show a lot of quality in possession and it does feel like we are gaining that understanding as a team the more the season develops. A big focus for us this weekend is to cut out those soft goals, especially on the counter, which is an area I’m sure Canterbury will feel that they can get some success from.”
With the Christmas break almost upon us, all the teams will be keen to give themselves something to build on when they return to outdoor action in February by picking up vital points this weekend. As always, you can find all the results here, on the England Hockey website.